Mantis lessons

>>>Mantis lessons

A small chitinous lady landed on my little balcony this morning, a 4-inch long preying mantis, wearily looking for somewhere to lay her eggs.

I love mantids, love their ferocity, their intelligence, the way they eye you, daring you to just TRY something so they can trounce you.* A mantis moves through life supremely confident, supremely paranoid, without a shred of compassion.

Sometimes I want to be like that.

I named this one Maisie, and watched as she meticulously examined each leaf on the balcony floor. She’d approach, pick up one end in her grasping limbs, and turn it over, head cocked to the side, eyes scanning carefully for flaws.

Not one leaf suited, even when she re-examined a couple of the more promising specimens. She ran out of leaves and the sun came out, so for a moment she basked quietly in the warmth, watching me with swiveling eyes. Then she swung her swollen belly around and resumed her search.

The Elmo stories (of Elmo, my replacement knee and then the fight to save him when I smashed my femur) have been going on for more than two years now. People ask to read them start to finish, so I’ve set up this Saving Elmo index page to let you view the whole series in one swell foop.

Mantids don’t live long, eight months to a year on average and, watching her, it was pretty clear that Maisie was nearing the end of her span. She was heavy with eggs and dragging her abdomen on the ground, tattering a bit more with every step.

Yet she never stopped her search, pushing wearily along the textured floor of the balcony. When she did find what she sought, she’d cover it with a foamy mass of eggs. Her eggs would harden while Maisie died; she’d never witness spring’s emergence of the babies she’d so meticulously situated.

She focused on the task at hand, ignoring the pain and weariness in favor of the greater goal.

Sometimes I want to be like that.

Last night was painful; The Leg went past grumpy to electroshock-nasty, par for the course given the stretching I must continue to regain a bendable knee. It pushed sleep away and kept me awake all night, blearily seeking a respite from the ache. My back counted every spring in the mattress, hour by hour to dawn.

It’s easy to vow to push through the pain and exhaustion in the light of day, before you start your recovery. So much harder to remember that vow in the dark, to push on when you’re mid-journey, exhausted and sore, and the only way out is through.

I watched Maisie pushing leaves aside, scraping her way across the balcony, and sat up a bit straighter.

I’ve got a plane to walk off next month. Back to work.

* Famous family story: I had a thing for creepy crawlies as a child, i.e., my pets were just as likely to be snakes and toads and preying manti as fluffy kittens. Mom wasn’t a huge fan of my choices, but once, during a grandparent pilgrimage in North Carolina, she happened on a ginormous preying mantis outside a country grocery.

She knew immediately that I’d love it for a pet, but no way was she picking it up herself. So she fetched a box, poked some holes into it, and asked a kind local if he’d stuff the mantis inside. 

Mom bore a striking resemblance to Jackie Kennedy Onassis; the guy was happy to oblige. “Are you sure they don’t bite?” he asked jestingly. 

“Oh no,” she assured him, “My daughter handles them all the time.”

Famous last words. Guy grabs the mantis, mantis whips around, embedding its claws into his thumb. Guy screams, mantis digs in, and a short, bloody skirmish ended with a mangled thumb and a triumphant mantis flying into the night. 

Lesson learned: Don’t mess with BIG mantids. Good thing I didn’t keep cobras.





  1. SB November 15, 2017 at 8:03 am - Reply

    Hoping that the worst is over for you. Thanks for sharing your story with us, and best wishes for less pain and more mobility every day.

  2. kathryncecelia November 15, 2017 at 1:45 am - Reply

    I send best wishes your way for a recovery that take you happily into the future… but the present is another wish. For the present I hope your pain lessens.

  3. Buttercup November 14, 2017 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    All the very best, Cynthia. I’m sure it’s yet to come. I’m glad the surgeries are behind you and, like so many others, I look forward to your progress reports and very witty writing. Jen

  4. ellen abbott November 14, 2017 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    cute story about your mom and the mantis. why do things always seem so bleak at night? like you say, the only way out is through so carry on.

  5. Sandy November 14, 2017 at 9:56 am - Reply

    I enjoyed your mantis stories! LOL! Don’t female mantis’s eat their mates after mating?

    • cynthia November 14, 2017 at 10:02 am - Reply

      Yep. Well, apparently DURING mating. These are not ladies to trifle with!

  6. Diana tillotson November 14, 2017 at 8:52 am - Reply

    You are an inspiration of wit and strength . I think of you often , wish I could meet you, keep on keeping on.
    If you would send your home address I would love to send you something I’ve made . You can message me privately on Facebook. You really should take up a career in writing. Hoping for an uneventful rehab.

  7. thenolanescape November 14, 2017 at 8:10 am - Reply

    I would like to say that I am enjoying your writing but that seems pretty awful. However, I will say that I admire your courage, wit, stamina, and drive. I look forward to your posts in hopes that each one brings you great progress or even a little progress. It is a little beacon of hope and optimism. I am sure not all days are like that for you. Even then, it is good to hear from you. Soldier On!

  8. Brenda November 14, 2017 at 7:39 am - Reply

    Courage my friend. Mantids also have to go it alone and you are surrounded (virtually) by people who love you, root for you, cheer your successes and support you during your set-backs. I am proud to be one of those people, and I wish I could have tucked you in last night like I did Jessie. Hugs. Can’t wait to plan something FUN with you when you’re mobile again!!

  9. Stephanie Smith November 14, 2017 at 6:35 am - Reply

    If I ever knew someone was going to make it “through” their trial, it was you. Your strength of will, tenacity and pure grit is impressive. Your writing is beautiful and thought provoking. Through it all you keep positive. I am sure there are those moments that aren’t so positive, but you don’t seem to wallow long there. You are an inspiration.

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